Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia appealed to ASEAN member states and other countries in the region to urgently rescue a boat carrying up to 200 Rohingya refugees, including women and children, which has been reportedly adrift off the coasts of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and India for weeks.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the boat has been adrift in high seas since late November, and dozens of passengers have already died on the journey, while the surviving passengers have no access to food, water or medication.
“We urgently call on ASEAN member states and other countries in the region to fulfill their humanitarian obligations and launch search and rescue operations for the boat if it enters their waters, and to allow for the proper disembarkation of the refugees,” said Eva Sundari of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) in a statement on December 20.
“It is disgraceful that a boat filled with men, women, and children in grave danger has been allowed to remain adrift,” she said, adding that neglecting the people on the boat “is nothing short of an affront to humanity.”
According to media reports and information from human rights organizations, two other boats carrying Rohingya refugees have been adrift in ASEAN waters in the past weeks. One, carrying 154 refugees, was rescued by a Vietnamese oil service vessel on December 8 and handed over to the Myanmar navy.
Another boat carrying 104 refugees was rescued by the Sri Lankan navy on December 18 and the people disembarked at Kankesanturai Harbor.
“In all likelihood, the delay in rescuing these boats has already caused untold suffering and loss of life,” said said Charles Santiago, chairperson of APHR. “Any further delay is unconscionable,” he said.
“This neglect of Rohingya refugees stranded in the sea is nothing new, as it has been going on for years, and has resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of deaths that could have been easily been prevented if the countries in the region fulfilled the most elementary humanitarian principles,” said Santiago.
APHR called on the ASEAN to devise a comprehensive and coordinated regional response to the issue of refugees stranded at sea.